Cardinals sign Mulder to two-year deal

Cards sign Mulder for two years

ST. LOUIS -- Familiarity bred content for Mark Mulder. The left-hander, recuperating from late-summer shoulder surgery, agreed to a two-year, $13 million deal with St. Louis on Wednesday. The contract includes a club option for 2009.

Mulder accepted a deal with the Cardinals, for whom he pitched the past two seasons, over relatively similar offers from Cleveland and Texas. He's unlikely to be ready to pitch on Opening Day, and it's unclear when exactly he will be available after undergoing rotator-cuff surgery in September.

Additionally, the Cardinals signed right-hander Ryan Franklin to a one-year contract, and Rick Ankiel and Jolbert Cabrera agreed to Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training. Franklin adds depth and flexibility to the pitching staff, giving the ability to start or relieve.

The 2006 season was a lost campaign for Mulder, who pitched well in April but quickly fell off as shoulder issues vexed him. He finished the season 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA, making only two starts after June and finishing with the fewest innings, wins and starts of any season in his career.

Billed as a front-of-the-rotation starter when he was acquired from Oakland for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton in December 2004, Mulder put up a solid but unspectacular first season as a Cardinal before his turbulent '06. He'll be hoping to build back up to the level that made him a 21-game winner and Cy Young runner-up with the A's.

"Mulder's return will be a real boost to our rotation," Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said in a statement issued by the team. "We've seen what he is capable of when healthy. Mark is very determined to return to his All-Star form."

Mulder, 29, was initially diagnosed with shoulder troubles in June, and placed on the disabled list. The Cardinals' medical staff attempted to remedy the troubles without surgery, and Mulder made an abortive return to active duty in August. But when he returned to the mound, Mulder was still clearly not right. After two rough starts, he was shelved again, and surgery ensued soon after.

For his career, Mulder is 103-57 in 199 starts. He sports a career ERA of 4.11, skewed significantly by his rough 2006, and has recorded 25 complete games and 10 shutouts in his seven big-league seasons.

According to The Associated Press, Mulder gets $5 million this year and $6.5 million in 2008, and the Cardinals have an $11 million option for 2009 with a $1.5 million buyout.

He can earn $6,525,000 in bonuses this year based on starts, getting the full amount with 35, and any of those bonuses earned would be added to his 2008 salary. He can earn $3.75 million in performance bonuses in 2008, and his 2009 option could increase to an amount matching his 2008 salary.

If he earns all the performance bonuses, Mulder would make $11,525,000 this year and $16,775,000 in each of the following two seasons.

Franklin will turn 34 in Spring Training. He went 6-7 with a 4.54 ERA in 2006, pitching 77 1/3 innings -- all in relief. However, he'll likely compete for a starting job with St. Louis, which has at least two open spots in its starting rotation. Franklin's last season as a starter was 2005 with the Seattle Mariners, when he was 8-15 with a 5.10 ERA in 32 games (30 starts).

"[St. Louis] has been a place of interest since right after the season," said Jay Franklin, Ryan's brother and agent. "We looked at the outline of what they were going to do this season, and we were hoping, if we had the opportunity to go there, it would be a good fit for Ryan."

The Cardinals rotation will include only two certainties at the start of the season, according to manager Tony La Russa. Ace Chris Carpenter, the 2004 Cy Young winner, sits at the top. New acquisition Kip Wells is virtually assured of a spot as well. Beyond that, young right-hander Anthony Reyes is quite likely to crack the starting five, though La Russa has been hesitant to declare him a sure thing.

After those three, Franklin joins a derby that will likely include Adam Wainwright -- assuming he's not summoned to ninth-inning duty again -- as well as Brad Thompson, Braden Looper and possibly rookie lefty Chris Narveson. If all goes as hoped with Mulder, the fifth starter will only be a place-holder until Mulder is able to return.

Franklin's best season was 2003, when he pitched effectively despite a misleading 11-13 record for Seattle. He put up a 3.57 ERA in 212 innings that season, making 32 starts. Franklin tallied two complete games and one shutout in each of his three full seasons as a starter (2003, 2004, 2005). He pitched 603 innings over that three-year span before coming to the National League and moving to the bullpen.

The right-hander throws strikes, but he has been prone to the long ball in his career. He's averaged under three walks per nine innings over the course of his career, but he allowed more than a homer per start in 2003 and 2004.

Unfortunately for Franklin, one of the ways he's best known is a reason he'd rather not be. He was suspended for 10 games in 2005 after testing positive for steroids. Franklin strenuously denied using any illegal substance, and said at the time that he believed the test result derived from over-the-counter supplements he took. He said he immediately ceased taking any and all supplements, and tested negative in subsequent tests.

Ankiel, the pitcher-turned-outfielder, was non-tendered by the Cardinals, but the club had hoped all along to re-sign him. He missed all of 2006 with a knee injury.

Cabrera, 34, is a veteran of seven Major League seasons with Cleveland, the Dodgers and Seattle. The brother of Orlando Cabrera, Jolbert spent the past two seasons playing in Japan. He's a right-handed hitter who has appeared in a Major League game at every position except pitcher and catcher.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.